To add insult to injury, Biden publicly put the blame for the Afghan rout not on himself (as was the case) but on the Afghan forces whom he had fully abandoned to their fate, writes Prof. Madhav Nalapat
It was 2011, and the giddy aroma of the “Arab Spring” was in full flower. Whether it be the leaders of the UK, France or the US, each was convinced that the era of western style democracy had arrived on the streets of Egypt and other countries in the region. The members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) remained unaffected, given that in many of them, the population was far better off than was the case in the countries run by authoritarian strongmen. Very soon, the “Arab Spring” that had been encouraged by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, morphed into a “Wahhabi Winter”.
In Egypt, the fundamentalist Brotherhood took centre stage, and only in Tunisia did a relatively moderate (but still avowedly religious) party, Ennahda, come to power. The leaders of the US, France and the UK could not resist the temptation of going after a defenceless Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and subsequently fanning the flames of revolt in Syria against Bashar al Assad. They ignored warnings that such an intervention (including by the deployment of military assets) would create societal and economic meltdown that would result in a flood of refugees (including religious zealots, often with a violent bent) arriving at European shores. Gaddafi was finished off in a particularly medieval manner to a glint of triumph from the watching Hillary Clinton.
Unfortunately for the armchair warriors and pundits in Washington, London and Paris, President Putin of the Russian Federation and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran stepped in to ensure that Assad remained in power, and the efforts of NATO ( the hugely expensive force that has crashed to defeat in so many theatres in Asia during the present century) failed to dislodge him. Both the Libyan and Syrian interventions gave a boost to international terrorism, which has entered a period of building up cells across target countries, waiting for the right moment to strike, a process that has been greatly accelerated by the pell-mell withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan this month after first President Trump and later President Biden conceded defeat to the Taliban.
Judging by the events culminating in the (temporary) occupation of Kabul by elements of the Taliban, the odds are high that Zalmay Khalilzad worked out a backroom understanding whereby (in exchange for abandoning the Afghan army) US and other NATO troops would be unmolested while they escaped from Afghanistan as fast as they could. If NATO led by the US has become an object of ridicule throughout the rest of the world, that should come as no surprise to the main architect of the disastrous manner of the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Joe Biden. The 46th President of the US has earned the contempt of fighting men in uniform everywhere for the chaos that was on display during the panic-stricken US military retreat from Afghanistan ordered by their Commander-in Chief, Joe Biden.
President Biden succeeded in so overawing Defense Secretary Llyod Austin that he went along with his Commander-in-Chief’s decision to withdraw the logistical support for the Afghan forces battling the Taliban. This rendered them helpless in countering aggression by an enemy backed by Pakistan and China. To add insult to injury, Biden publicly put the blame for the Afghan rout not on himself (as was the case) but on the Afghan forces whom he had fully abandoned to their fate. Some in the US Congress (especially if the Republican Party rides on Biden’s lack of leadership and seizes back control of the House and Senate in 2022) may ask for an enquiry into whether there was a clandestine arrangement worked out with the extremist militia by Taliban favourite Zalmay Khalilzad to sacrifice the Afghan military in order to ensure safe passage for US forces.
Given that the best guarantee of such safety would have been the very US airpower that was abruptly cut off by Biden, this may have been another example of the 46th US President’s ineptness in matters concerning security. Had it been for Joe Biden, Osama bin Laden would still have been alive, enjoying the (doubtful) pleasures of younger and younger wives in the bosom of the hospitality provided by GHQ Rawalpindi, as he was totally opposed to the decision to make the successful effort to execute bin Laden in 2011.
Joe Biden is a straightforward individual and a patriot, but what may need investigation is whether less scrupulous members of his family or trusted friends were influenced by the well-funded Sino-Wahhabi combo to get the President to push the Afghans under the bus the way Trump did in the Kurds in 2019. Mark Esper stood up to the cowardly orders of Trump in a way that Lloyd Austin failed to do in the case of Biden, whose missteps may result in the doom of the Democratic Party in 2022 and himself two years later.
As for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now that his newfound friend and (shaky) partner Biden has abdicated responsibility in a region crucial to the security of the US in particular, much will need to be done to partly fill the gap. Given that the Uzbeks, Tajiks, Shia and Hazara (not to mention moderate Pashtuns) are opposed to Taliban rule, India will need to work closely with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Iran in order to support such groups to withstand the onslaught already launched by the Taliban against them in several locations across Afghanistan.
Efforts need to be made to get Biden to understand the folly of going the Bill Clinton route and handing over the keys to power in Afghanistan to the Taliban, whose worst perceived foe is, and has always been, the Atlantic Alliance. The advantage over the 1990s is that the majority of Pashtuns loathe the Taliban, while in Pakistan, they resent the control that the Wahhabi Punjabi Pakistan army has over their lives. Whether it be violent groups in Pakistan or China, the folly committed by GHQ Rawalpindi and the Central Military Commission in backing the Taliban will endanger the security of Pakistan and China in the period ahead.
The next six months will be rough, the coming period easier and easier for those battling against the Trump-Biden plan to push Afghanistan back into the Middle Ages through the US once again acting as the midwife to a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. In such a situation, India needs to speak softly but act decisively, and it is expected of PM Narendra Modi that this will happen.